Ron’s doctor, Eric Topol, a world-famous heart specialist, gives Ron a smartphone and presses a small black plastic rectangle on Ron’s bare chest. Ron holds the phone in the palms of his cupped hands, tips of his fingers pressed against the metal bands at the back of the phone’s plastic jacket. He is impassive at first, unsure of what to expect. The phone displays the rolling peaks and valleys of Ron’s heartbeat. The portable electrocardiogram (ECG) also registers his heart rate in large block numbers above the graph.
The case illustrates just how patients are increasingly able to take control of the diagnostics of their own conditions through personal digital technology. An array of smartphone attachments enables people to monitor and test their conditions, and even inject themselves with life-saving serums. However, patients do not yet have unfettered access to their own medical and insurance claims records from a single trustworthy online source.
Blockchain and personal digital technology offer patients a secure high-trust network through which they can trace their patient history and insurance claims. Blockchain solutions may provide the final puzzle piece in how patients can ultimately gain control of their medical history.
The Dawn of Patient-Centric Medicine
Topol estimated that digital health technology “… helps make the patient-doctor relationship more intimate. By using the existing digital infrastructure of today, office visits will be more enjoyable,” he said. “And [visits] don’t even necessarily have to be in person… Anything that we can do can be done remotely,” he added.
Digital health evangelists like Topol see a patient-centered world in which patients can be better informed about their own health. Topol wrote in The Wall Street Journal that: “the vast majority of doctors are unwilling to email patients or share their office notes. Getting a copy of a report after lab tests or medical scans seems impossible—and don’t even think about getting the results or images themselves.”
Digital health technologies will release patients from the doctor-centric authority of the Western medical establishment for the first time since Hippocrates scribed his oath for doctors in the 5th century BC. Not only is an entire sector being disrupted by the new technologies, but we are witnessing an entire social contract between patient and doctor torn up after more than 2,500 years of having been set in stone. And Blockchain technology already plays an active role in this process.
The Benefits of Blockchain
Blockchain is an electronic ledger that members of an online community share. Within the context of the healthcare sector, the community can be made up of patients, doctors, medical assistants, first responders like ambulance technicians, insurance claims administrators, suppliers, and more.
Blockchain offers every member of the network the exact same log of transactions as everyone else in the community. It dramatically reduces paperwork and prevents the loss of files that plague the healthcare sector. The technology also reduces the layers of third-party players that inflate the cost of patient care and contribute to the lack of localization, coordination, and coherence of patient records.
When one member updates the log, every other participant’s record updates simultaneously. Each transaction - or block - that the application chains to previous transactions itself becomes immutable. No one can change a block once it is in the chain. In this way, patients, doctors and administrators can use blockchain technology to trace the real and unaltered condition of any record logged in the blockchain in a single trusted source. Records can include patient histories, digital diagnostics data and reports, patient treatments, insurance claims forms, and more. Furthermore, Blockchains can also use special cryptographic keys to protect private data from prying eyes.
Several projects are already trying to turn Blockchain’s advantages into beneficial solutions in the Healthcare sphere. Dentacoin is one such example that has been maintaining the highest position on Coinmarketcap among all Healthcare-related Blockchain projects. Apart from developing various software applications for dentists and patients (such as a dental health training mobile app, review and market research platforms) and being used as a means of payment within a growing global network of dentists, labs, suppliers, the Netherlands-based Dentacoin Foundation is currently working on a patient-managed health records database.
Using a secure and reliable Blockchain infrastructure, this decentralized database will store key patient details, dental images, diagnostics, previous treatment evidences, related lab results. Only patients will be able to upload and manage their health data. The option to invite dentists to access the records and thus individualize and enhance treatment plans and recommendations will also be available. Backed by a community of dentists dedicated to fostering patient-centered dental care, the Foundation’s next goal is to implement Dentacoin Assurance program that will reward dentists for preventive treatment as a matter of priority.
Patient Data in The Hands of Patients
The disintermediation of layers of bureaucracy through smartphone apps for patients plays right into the strengths of Blockchain. During the Pre-digital age, the patient would have had to come into the clinic and wait until a doctor was available to see him or her. Now, remote digital technologies can stream patient data directly into Blockchains, where doctors can review and act on conditions. Blockchain has the potential to accelerate the shift in power from doctors and their institutions to patients.